Support the Cuban People vs. People to People Travel to Cuba

Support the Cuban People vs. People to People Travel to Cuba

ViaHero · Updated February 28, 2019

As an American traveling to Cuba, you might be confused by the changing regulations. But don’t worry. Once you get comfortable with the idea, it’s easy to plan a trip to Cuba as an American.

Once you give the article a read feel free to message us directly with any questions you still have.

Want to make the most out of your trip? Tap into our network of local travel planners—Heroes—who build unique, locally-curated trip plans, designed just for you. Get started.

There are two things you need to do to legally travel to Cuba

  1. Choose an approved category of travel. This is a requirement set by the U.S. The categories are outlined below and are all self-reporting. There’s no cost to you or paper to carry around.
  2. Buy a Tourist Card. This is a requirement of the Cuban government. People from most countries need one, not just American citizens. If you're traveling directly from the US, your card will be pink. If not, your card will be green. The simplest way to get your Cuban Tourist Card is to purchase it online in advance, but airlines that fly to Cuba also offer Tourist Cards for sale. Call your airline for more information, or check out this detailed guide to purchasing a Tourist Card.

Here’s the scoop on the approved categories of travel for Americans

Every American traveler to Cuba is required to choose one of the following approved categories of travel. These are self-reporting categories that you choose depending on how you will spend your time when you travel to Cuba.

Here’s the full list of categories:

  • Family visits
  • Official business for the US government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalism
  • Professional research
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Educational activities and people to people travel
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  • Exportation, importation or transmission of information or informational materials
  • Certain export transactions

man riding horse in cuba

Most travelers find that two of those categories stand out for them: Support for the Cuban People and People to People

Here’s the main difference between the two:

  • Support for the Cuban People = independent travel. You can go on your own as long as you follow the guidelines for the category.
  • People to People = guided tour travel. You cannot travel independently with this category as of November 2017. You will need a tour guide from a US tour operator with you during your entire trip.

How Americans Can Travel to Cuba with the Support for the Cuban People Category

The best part about Support for the Cuban People is that you are allowed to travel independently, or use a guide for part of your trip, if you choose it.

You’re in control of where you go, what you do, where you stay, and how much you spend. It’s much, much cheaper to travel independently than it is to go with a tour. You can even spend a week in Havana for just $300!

Your trip will fit into the Support for the Cuban People category if you:

  • Support independent activities that could strengthen civil society in Cuba.
  • Avoid all GAESA-owned (military-owned) businesses. Here is a complete list of organizations that you must avoid. You cannot spend money or interact with any of them.
  • Engage in "Support for the Cuban People" activities consistent with a “full-time schedule.” Much like when you’re working, you have to follow the rules during your full-time schedule, but you’re more free to choose your activities outside of that full-time obligation.
    • Support for the Cuban People activities include:   
      • Meeting with local artists, musicians, tobacco manufacturers, farmers, and others who own their own businesses
      • Shopping in independent markets
      • Exploring independently run museums
      • Taking classes on subjects like dancing, traditional music, and Spanish language
      • Talking with musicians at a live music venue
      • Attending art shows and learning about different Cuban artists
      • Discussing Cuban society with locals like your casa particular host or people you meet while out and about

local man playing instrument in cuba

You will need some documentation to make sure your trip follows the rules.

The only thing you must do is keep all of your receipts for five years after your trip. Bring an envelope with you to collect them all as you go and then put it away with your important documents when you get home.

An itinerary is helpful, but not required. If you have an itinerary it will be much easier to make sure you’ve filled a full-time schedule with appropriate activities. And if you’re ever questioned about your trip, you’ll be able to hand over a copy of your itinerary to help things go smoothly.

A ViaHero itinerary will cover your whole trip and show you which activities on it qualify as Support for the Cuban People. Here’s an example itinerary.

Some example activities from OFAC include:

  • Staying at a casa particular and having breakfast with your hosts each morning to learn about their lives.
  • Volunteering with independent groups to do something like work in a school for underserved Cuban children.

Go here for more details and exact language from OFAC.

Get help planning your trip under Support for the Cuban People.

If you'd like any help planning your trip, a local expert in Cuba can plan out as much or as little of your trip as you'd like, all while helping to ensure that you are visiting legally under the Support for the Cuban People category. Check out the pricing page for more on what is included.

Whenever you'd like to get started, enter a few of your travel interests and you'll be matched with the best local expert to plan your trip.

How Americans Can Travel to Cuba with the People to People Category

You are required to use a tour guide who is with you 24/7. Plus, the tour guide operator must be US-based, and use US-based guides.

Traveling like this is usually quite expensive. You can easily spend $5000 to $8000 for a week-long trip.

And you can’t pick just any trip. You’re not fully in control of your time or activities. The tour you choose must include a full-time schedule of educational activities designed to create meaningful interactions between Cubans and travelers.

An example of people to people travel could be an educational exchange where travelers will learn alongside Cuban students about topics like art or music.  

Get the full details on People to People travel from OFAC.

Have more questions about traveling to Cuba? Here is a list of our local Cuban travel experts who can help you or you can message us any questions you have. And before your trip, make sure to check out:


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